Internal Developer Platform: Tutorial, Examples & Recommendations

November 1, 2023
min read

Internal developer platforms (IDPs) provide automated self-service solutions for developers to simplify and standardize software practices, infrastructure, environments, and operations. IDPs are configured by operations teams and utilized by developers and testers. Operations teams define resource provisioning criteria for specific environments or requests and establish standardized application configuration templates along with permission controls. This automation streamlines recurrent tasks like environment and resource deployments, enhancing maintenance efficiency through enforced standards or what some like to call “Access with Guardrails.” 

The objective of an IDP is to improve the developer experience by reducing the cognitive load required to deploy an application. Developer teams, in turn, achieve autonomy by modifying configurations, deploying, provisioning environments, and executing rollbacks. IDPs can be either developed in-house or procured from external sources.

The three major stages in a modern developer’s workflow (source)

This article dives deep into the concepts behind internal developer platforms, showing how they are an extension of the DevOps evolution and what benefits IDPs bring to various engineering teams. We also review the core components of IDP and share examples of IDP tools and processes.

Summary of key internal developer platform (IDP) concepts

Section Description
What is an internal developer platform? An IDP is a comprehensive, self-service, integrated set of tools, services, and infrastructure that is purpose-built to streamline and accelerate software development and operations within an organization.
IDP and the evolution of DevOps An IDP introduces a new layer of abstraction for developers, reducing cognitive load, improving the developer experience, and addressing issues not covered by traditional DevOps practices focused on deploying code to production.
How IDPs are used by platform teams and application developers The platform team primarily builds, runs, configures, and maintains the IDP. It concentrates on standardization by design, infrastructure, service-level agreements, and workflow optimization. Application developers choose preconfigured templates from a software catalog and specify dependencies using YAML specifications, testing the setup using environment as a service (EaaS) tools before deployment to production.
How IDPs are used by application developers IDPs integrate into existing workflows, which usually remain git-push deploy workflows but add further automation. The entire deployment process is now at the disposal of developers, who can request resources, spin up fully provisioned environments, rollback, deploy, and set deployment automation rules autonomously.
Core components of IDP The five core components of IDP are application configuration management, infrastructure orchestration, environment management, deployment management, and role-based access control.
IDP tooling IDPs are built on top of core DevOps tooling, with two new categories standing out: platform orchestrators and service catalogs.

What is an IDP?

An internal developer platform (IDP) is a comprehensive, integrated set of tools, services, and infrastructure purpose-built to streamline and accelerate software development and operations within an organization. At its core, an IDP acts as a centralized hub that offers a wide range of resources and automation capabilities to support various stages of the software development lifecycle.

A graphical overview of an internal developer platform (source: Uffizzi)

Relation to platform engineering

In the context of platform engineering, IDPs serve as a foundational layer for managing and provisioning resources, including infrastructure, containers, and services. Platform engineers leverage IDPs to design and maintain the underlying infrastructure that powers the development and deployment pipelines. This alignment with platform engineering ensures that development teams have access to a stable set of foundational resources for their projects, enabling faster development cycles and improved overall system resilience.

In summary, an IDP is a key enabler of modern software development and operations, streamlining workflows, providing resources, and fostering collaboration. Its close relationship with platform engineering ensures a robust system for fast, efficient, and scalable software delivery.


IDP and the evolution of DevOps

With the rise of DevOps, developers suddenly had to deal with complex cloud-native tools just to perform basic tasks like updating environment settings or troubleshooting database setups; this sometimes involved more than 10 different tools. Although DevOps aimed to give developers more control, it ended up increasing their cognitive workload levels, negatively impacting their experience and productivity.  The idea that every developer was also a DevOps engineer is a concept that does not scale. 

It has become evident that engineering organizations investing in internal developer platforms (IDPs) consistently outperformed the majority of organizations in terms of DORA metrics, including lead time, deployment frequency, change failure rate, and MTTR. This highlighted a successful progression in the DevOps transformation journey compared to those who encountered challenges along the way. The stories by Netflix and AirBnB are among the brightest examples of such transformations.

How IDPs are used by platform teams

IDPs serve as a versatile toolset catering to the specific needs of platform engineers, operations teams, and DevOps practitioners. To illustrate how the workflow of infrastructure teams is being changed with IDP, we’ll review a use case here and then reference it further in the rest of the article.

Before the advent of IDPs, infrastructure teams constructed CI/CD pipelines using tools like Jenkins, GitLab CI, and Spinnaker and also configured monitoring and alerting systems. However, this approach often resulted in a lack of standardization and a proliferation of numerous static scripts throughout different teams. Additionally, infrastructure personnel had to allocate significant time to knowledge sharing, developer education, and documentation maintenance.

IDPs address these challenges by serving as a unified interface that enables developers to access and standardize IDP capabilities. One common implementation of such an interface is known as a software catalog. We’ll now examine one of the most widely used software catalog implementations: Spotify’s Backstage.

According to its official documentation, Backstage is an open platform for building developer portals. It is organized as a centralized software catalog combined with a set of plugins, which serve as extensible add-ons implementing certain features and integrations.

Backstage software catalog

The software catalog is a core feature of the Backstage platform, which offers a centralized system to track access privileges and metadata for all the software components in the development ecosystem, such as services, websites, libraries, data pipelines. 

This feature naturally enhances collaboration, acting sort of like a service discovery on steroids. The platform team can register all the capabilities it provides to development teams, and they can be discovered on their own.

Backstage software templates

By default, the software catalog has the ability to load skeletons of code, template in some variables, and then publish the template to some locations like GitHub or GitLab. The platform team can prepare typical software project templates, for example:

  • Spring Boot Template
  • React Project Template
  • Django Project Template

The template will contain a project skeleton and all the configurations needed for CI/CD, monitoring, and additional infrastructure dependencies. Instead of tailoring these kinds of projects for each team or each project, the platform team can provide a self-service type of product.

Examples provided by Backstage can be found here. We will also review a few examples in the following sections.

How IDPs are used by application developers

Gartner introduced the concept of a citizen developer in its analyst reports, a term that refers to an employee capable of creating application functionalities for personal or collective use via tools that aren’t explicitly restricted by IT or business units. It’s important to note that a citizen developer represents a persona, not a formal title or designated role. 

While this concept may seem enticing, real-world challenges often arise. These include the absence of developer self-service, extended wait times for operations to perform routine tasks (e.g., provisioning databases or setting up environments), and the expectation that developers must comprehensively grasp complex toolchains to avoid reliance on operations.

These challenges impose additional cognitive load and divert developers from their coding tasks, sometimes leading to shadow operations. The result is a diminished overall developer experience, characterized by a lack of documentation, frequent context switching, and a limited understanding of underlying technologies and tools.

Consider a scenario based on the use case described in the previous section. Suppose that a developer needs to deploy a Spring Boot application with additional dependencies, such as MySQL, Redis for persistent data storage, and a Kafka cluster for messaging. In the pre-DevOps era, the developer would have to request this setup from the operations team, effectively facing a roadblock until the environment was provisioned.

With the emergence of DevOps, developers gained access to these tools to set up infrastructure using Terraform, install extra dependencies within Kubernetes using Helm, package everything into Docker images, and build Jenkins pipelines for testing and deployment. However, this approach introduces significant overhead on the development side, requiring the acquisition of new skills and often doubling the effort—what we refer to as increased cognitive load.

Enter the era of IDP, where developers are provided with an additional layer of abstractions. They can utilize a software catalog such as Backstage to select preconfigured templates like the Spring Boot Template and indicate their dependencies using YAML specifications. Furthermore, they can test this setup using environment as a service (EaaS) technology before deploying it to production.

The five core components of IDP

Typically, IDPs consist of five core components, each serving a critical role in streamlining software development and operations. Let’s examine these components in detail.

Application configuration management

Managing configuration files—often in scripts or using YAML—is complex, particularly for versioning and distinguishing environment-specific elements. Current setups often lack developer self-service, necessitating DevOps team involvement in environment setup (an area that is not its primary focus).

An IDP efficiently handles resources residing within your container orchestration platform (e.g., Kubernetes) and those external to it, such as databases and file storage, which are essential for modern applications. Moreover, a well-designed IDP should dynamically manage both internal and external resources, adapting them contextually, like configuring specific database types based on the environment’s requirements.

Let’s say you have a web application deployed on Kubernetes that requires a MySQL database (like from the previous example). With a well-designed IDP, when you deploy your app to a dev environment, it automatically provisions a lightweight database for testing purposes. When you move the same application to a production environment, the IDP recognizes the change in context and deploys a more robust and secure database solution to handle the increased traffic and data demands. This dynamic resource management ensures that the right resources are available for each environment, optimizing efficiency and scalability.

Infrastructure orchestration

IDP is the sum of the tech and tools that an operations, DevOps, or platform engineering team glues together to build golden paths (GPs) for developers. A GP refers to an optimal and standardized route that developers can follow to deploy applications within an IDP. Evaluating GPs is often an early consideration when building an IDP or establishing a platform engineering team because it ensures that developers have a well-defined, efficient path for application deployment.

All the existing tools and infrastructure are part of the IDP; they integrate with it and are orchestrated by the IDP to enable continuous delivery or even continuous deployment (CD) processes.

An IDP typically establishes integration points with your current CI pipelines on one end and your underlying hardware infrastructure—like Kubernetes clusters, databases, and file storage—on the other. This stands in contrast to platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions, which often provide a complete, bundled package inclusive of infrastructure, frequently relying on proprietary technology stacks.

Typical integration points of an internal developer platform (source)

In order for these integrations to work seamlessly, the notion of a platform orchestrator was introduced. This is described in more detail in the discussion of IDP tooling below.

Environment management

Difficulty in setting up new environments often necessitates requesting assistance from other teams, resulting in potential delays ranging from hours to days or even weeks, depending on team priorities. This challenge can lead to environments being left active when not in use, causing resources to idle and incur unnecessary costs. The inability to create environments promptly can significantly impact delivery speed, causing shared environments to be blocked for extended periods and hindering multiple teams from testing their services or features—a problem that occurs regularly.

IDPs empower developers to generate new, fully provisioned environments on demand, a concept known as environment as a service (EaaS), as mentioned above. Developers can spin up development, testing, or staging environments with ease, replicating production configurations and ensuring that testing environments closely mirror the production environment. This capability accelerates development cycles and ensures that applications behave predictably in different environments.

IDP enhancing traditional CI/CD workflows

A good example of such an environment could be Virtual Kubernetes Clusters, where the declaration might look like as simple as this:

kind: UffizziCluster
  name: cluster-1
  - chart:
      name: kubernetes-dashboard

Deployment management

In an ideal setup, developers can fully focus on writing code and testing it in action. Everything else should be automated as much as possible, which an IDP can enable teams to set up. It provides a consolidated view of the most important debugging information (e.g., deployment logs and container logs) for any current or even past deployment. This centralized information is a great starting point for debugging a problem and can save a lot of time and avoid unnecessary headaches.

A good example of such an implementation is a Backstage Kubernetes plugin, a tool that’s designed for the needs of service owners, not cluster admins. Now developers can easily check the health of their services no matter how or where those services are deployed—whether on a local host for testing or in production on dozens of clusters around the world.

Role-based access control (RBAC)

Various methodologies exist for handling access rights and permissions within software systems, but the predominant approach, particularly in enterprise contexts, is role-based access control (RBAC). Historically, RBAC configuration and permission management have often operated in isolation, occasionally overseen by security teams and, at times, lacking automation.

The objective of an IDP is to unify and streamline RBAC management, offering developers a self-sufficient mechanism to utilize RBAC while ensuring adherence to security policies. Looking again at the Backstage example, we can see that it has several plugins providing the integration with various cloud providers and Kubernetes RBAC and several options for incorporating them into software templates.

IDP tooling

IDPs rely on a set of core DevOps tools to provide the functionality and automation necessary for efficient software development and operations. The detailed list of categories can be found here, but two essential groups in this tooling arsenal are service catalogs and platform orchestrators.

Service catalogs simplify resource access, while platform orchestrators automate infrastructure management. These components work together to provide a seamless and efficient environment for development and operations teams, ultimately enhancing the software development lifecycle.

Service catalogs

Service catalogs within IDPs serve as central repositories of services, tools, and resources that development teams can leverage throughout the software development lifecycle. These catalogs streamline access to various services, reducing the time spent on resource discovery and provisioning. 

Let’s take Spotify’s Backstage again, a popular service catalog tool. It offers a unified platform where teams can discover, provision, and manage a wide range of services, from databases to testing tools. By centralizing access to services, service catalogs simplify and accelerate the development process, ensuring that the right tools are readily available when needed.

Platform orchestrators

Platform orchestrators are responsible for managing and orchestrating the underlying infrastructure and resources that support development and operations. They automate tasks related to resource provisioning, scaling, and lifecycle management. 

These orchestrators are responsible for managing and coordinating the underlying infrastructure and resources that support development and operations. They automate tasks related to resource provisioning, scaling, and lifecycle management and enable IDPs to provide developers with consistent, scalable, and reliable environments for their applications. By automating infrastructure management, they reduce operational overhead and ensure that resources are used efficiently.

Considerations when building or evaluating an IDP

When building or evaluating an internal developer platform (IDP), several technical considerations are paramount to ensure that it aligns with your organization’s requirements. Here’s a concise look at these key considerations, broken down into several categories.

Developer experience and product management in IDP development

Developer experience (DevEx) is critical for developer satisfaction and productivity. An effective IDP should prioritize speed and ease of use, offering streamlined workflows and a user-friendly interface. When well designed, developers should be able to access and utilize platform resources swiftly, minimizing friction and cognitive load in the development process.

Many companies adopting IDPs and establishing platform engineering teams recognize the significance of having a dedicated product manager (or an engineer fulfilling that role). This individual plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the platform and developers, ensuring that the IDP aligns with developers’ needs and priorities.

Building a successful IDP necessitates a deep understanding of what its primary customers—developers—expect from the platform. This understanding is acquired through ongoing feedback mechanisms such as workshops, surveys, and direct interactions. More comprehensive information on product management within the IDP context can be found in dedicated blog posts and resources.

Management through automation

There are a couple of factors to take into account in this area:

  • Lifecycle management: In the context of IDPs, lifecycle management refers to the automation of tasks related to the complete lifespan of resources, from provisioning to decommissioning. For instance, consider a scenario where a development team requires a new test environment for a feature branch. With automation in place, this environment can be spun up with minimal manual intervention, ensuring that it’s consistent and ready for use. Similarly, when the feature is complete, the environment can be automatically decommissioned, freeing up resources and reducing costs.
  • Security/access control: Automation in security and access control is crucial for maintaining a robust yet developer-friendly environment. For example, an IDP can automate user access provisioning and revocation based on role changes or project assignments. This ensures that team members have the right level of access without cumbersome manual processes. Moreover, security policies can be consistently applied across various environments and services, reducing the risk of vulnerabilities and unauthorized access.


Flexibility is an essential consideration when assessing an existing IDP or designing a new one. Take these aspects into account: 

  • Meeting current needs: An IDP must cater to the immediate needs of development teams by providing the tools and resources necessary for their ongoing projects. For instance, if a team is working on a microservices-based application, the IDP should offer container orchestration capabilities, enabling the seamless deployment and management of microservices.
  • Future-proofing: Beyond addressing current needs, an IDP should also be designed with an eye toward the future. This means anticipating potential shifts in technology stacks or development methodologies. For instance, as serverless computing gains prominence, the IDP should be ready to accommodate serverless deployment and management, ensuring that teams can easily transition to new paradigms without overhauling entire workflows.
  • Scalability: An IDP should be capable of scaling resources up or down based on demand. For example, it should automatically allocate additional resources to maintain performance during peak traffic periods and then scale down during periods of reduced demand to optimize resource utilization.

Cost efficiency

Cost is always a critical factor in any decision. Assess it while taking into consideration the following:

  • Multi-tenancy: Multi-tenancy is a key component of cost efficiency. An IDP can support multiple development teams or projects on the same infrastructure without compromising security or performance. Each team operates in a separate, isolated environment within the IDP, sharing resources effectively. This reduces the infrastructure footprint, leading to substantial cost savings. With Kubernetes multi-tenancy, IDPs can create isolated virtual clusters for different development teams or projects within the same Kubernetes cluster. This ensures that resources are efficiently utilized across various application environments, reducing infrastructure overhead and expenses.
  • Resource optimization: By efficiently allocating resources based on demand and workload, an IDP ensures that computing resources are used optimally. For example, when developers utilize predeveloped templates, they can effectively align resource configurations with the specific requirements of the application, thereby eliminating resource overprovisioning. Resource optimization also relates to scalability, as discussed above.
  • Speed of provisioning: IDPs facilitate the rapid provisioning of development environments and resources, reducing the delays and idle resource costs associated with slower provisioning methods. Unlike traditional methods that might take hours or even days to provision, IDPs can accomplish the same task in mere seconds.



IDPs are catalysts for efficiency and innovation in modern software development. From streamlining operations to empowering application developers, IDPs are redefining the way teams collaborate and create. As organizations continue their digital transformation journeys, embracing IDPs becomes not just a choice but a necessity. 

In this article, we unveiled the core components of IDPs, showcased their role in the evolution of DevOps, and highlighted how they benefit platform engineers, operations teams, and developers. We also emphasized the importance of thoughtful implementation and alignment with organizational goals. With IDPs at your disposal, you’re equipped to enhance the developer experience, reduce cognitive load, improve cost efficiency, and ensure faster delivery, higher quality, and a competitive edge.